Yesterday's "cook" is becoming today's "meal assembler." "Dump and cook" is a preferred cooking style for many people.
How can you fix meals fast and still offer good-tasting, nutritious foods? Get started with these 16 tips, adapted from Shopping for Food and Making Meals in Minutes (U.S. Department of Agriculture).
Arrange foods, utensils, and equipment for fast-paced work.
Example: Put items that you use together in a similar location. You might store measuring spoons and cups near dry ingredients that need measuring.
Stock your kitchen with quick-to-fix ingredients that can be used in a variety of ways.
Example: Frozen peas can be served alone as a vegetable, thawed for use in a cold salad, or mixed in with a casserole.
Plan some meals in advance so there's less work at the last minute.
Example: Make a mental note of what you'll have for dinner tomorrow. If meat needs to thaw, you can let it thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
Jot down food items as you need them.
Example: Keep a piece of paper near the cupboard or refrigerator to write down out-of-stock items to buy on your next trip to the grocery store. Read recipes ahead of time to make sure you have all needed ingredients on hand.
Plan menus that make it easy to get all foods for the meal done at the same time.
Example: Assemble a salad while a quiche is in the oven baking. Serve with store-bought rolls.
Focus preparation efforts on one portion of the meal.
Example: If the main dish requires lots of attention, fix a simple vegetable or salad. If the main dish is a simply prepared meat, dress up the vegetables or add an interesting side dish.
Complete some preparation steps earlier in the day or the day before.
Example: Assemble a casserole the night before, refrigerate, and pop in the oven the next day.
Use time-saving food preparation methods.
Example: To save total preparation time, try quick microwave or stove top versions of dishes you usually cook in the oven. Try skillet lasagna or microwave corn bread. Also, one-dish meals save cleanup!
Recruit others to help you with meals.
Example: Have your children, grandchildren, other household members or friends help with the meal. Others can help with simple food preparation steps, setting and clearing the table, or washing dishes. Have a company potluck meal where others bring various menu items. Or, have a friend over and cook together.
Collect quick and easy menu ideas.
Example: Start a collection of easy-to-prepare recipes that contain just a few ingredients and a few steps. Think "speed scratch" -- a term for combining convenience foods with fresh ingredients. For example, add bananas to an instant pudding made with skim milk.
Make extra foods when you have time to cook.
Example: On weekends, if you prepare muffins, make a double batch and freeze the extras. Anytime you make foods such as soups, stews, chili, or spaghetti sauce, make extra and freeze in meal-size portions.
Choose time-saving cookware and utensils.
- Use cookware in which food can be cooked, served, and stored.
- A food processor can save considerable time if you have lots to do. It may not be worth the trouble for small amounts.
- Use a Teflon-coated pan or a vegetable cooking spray to make pans easier to clean. You'll also have healthier meals since you won't have to grease the pan with fat!
- Microwave ovens are time-savers for some foods, but cooking certain foods in the microwave oven does not save time. Rice and pasta are examples. It may be just as simple to cook these on top of the stove.
- Whatever gadgets you use, the fewer you use, the less time needed for cleanup!
Buy foods at the deli to include with foods at home for meals.
- Buy a prepared meat dish, such as roast chicken, to serve with vegetables and a salad fixed at home.
- Purchase a combination of cut-up fruits to add variety to your diet.
- Select precut vegetables for a salad or stir-fry.
- Buy "just enough" dessert for your meal. Save on calories as well as the expense of buying special ingredients used in some desserts.
Purchase "fast" foods to eat in combination with foods at home.
Example: While many drive-through fast food places serve mainly burgers, fries, shakes, and soft drinks, they offer options for part of your meal at home. Buy smaller plain burgers and supplement with fresh fruit or vegetables, and a glass of milk at home.
Keep some TV dinners on hand for a quick meal when there's no time to cook or purchase food.
Example: TV dinners that contain more than a few pieces of meat and vegetables can be a healthy addition to your at-home stock of quick-cooking foods. Look for brands lower in salt, fat and sugar. To round out the meal, consider serving with a glass of milk, and a piece of fruit. You might also wish to add a bread serving.
Buy take-out dinners ("home meal replacements") from restaurants and/or supermarkets.
Example: According to the Food Marketing Institute, 42% of meals eaten at home are prepared elsewhere, with 25% of them from restaurant take-out. Consumers who eat take-out meals from restaurants rather than eating in the restaurant seem to have less of an "urge to splurge."
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FoodTalk E-mail Newsletter, University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County, http://lancaster.unl.edu/food/ FoodTalk.htm